Murphy says he supports removing religion as a reason to skip child vaccinations in N.J.

Posted Jan 15, 2020

Gov. Phil Murphy made it clear Wednesday that he would sign a bill into law that would no longer allow parents to cite religion as a reason to avoid getting their children the vaccinations required to attend school in New Jersey.

“If that were to come our way — I don’t talk about prospective bills in specifics — but I think we’ve given a pretty strong indication that that’s something that we would support,” the Democratic governor told reporters during an unrelated event in East Brunswick.

Murphy’s comments come two days after a planned vote on the measure (S2173) in the state Senate fell apart for the second time in a month, as hundreds of parents staged another loud protest outside the Statehouse in Trenton.

But Democratic leaders of the state Legislature have vowed to pass the bill in the new two-year legislative session that began Tuesday, saying it would help ensure children are better protected from diseases because mainstream science supports vaccination. They also argue that no major religions oppose vaccines.

Lawmakers have already reintroduced the proposal, which would have to pass both house of the Democratic-controlled Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — before Murphy can sign it into law.

Though it passed the Assembly last month, leaders say they’ve been one vote short of passing the bill in the Senate.

Opponents say the legislation would strip away parental rights, as well as their freedom of religion. Some protestors also say they don’t trust the government and pharmaceutical companies when it comes to their children’s safety.

Murphy said in December that “the safety of all nine million residents is job No. 1 for me" and that his administration bases its decisions “on science and fact.” He also said recognizes “the passions on this on both sides” and would not definitively say whether he’d sign the bill.

After Monday’s vote was canceled, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, called on Murphy to be more specific.

“You can’t hide behind words," said Sweeney, who often clashes with the governor. “This is a public health issue. As the governor, he should be very clear in his position. You should either support it or you don’t.”

The bill gained momentum after an outbreak of measles in New York last year.

A reporter asked Murphy on Wednesday whether he views “the rise of measles a public health threat” and, if so, why he hasn’t made a push for this bill the way he lobbied for a measure he signed into law that allows undocumented immigrants in New Jersey to obtain drivers licenses.

“I’m not sure whether I’m qualified to say whether this is a public crisis or not,” Murphy responded. “That’s not a judgement that I would make.”

“Obviously, it’s important, and the safety and security of the 9 million folks who call this state their home is job No. 1 for me personally — and in particular and especially our kids and vulnerable populations,” he added.

“Secondly, I’ve been pretty clear that we make our decisions based on science and data, and we’ll continue to,” the governor continued.

After the bill fell a vote short of passing the state Senate last month, lawmakers made amendments to the measure — the largest of which would give privately run day care centers and schools in the state the option to accept unvaccinated children.

But while that gained the support of a Republican state senator, leaders said the bill was still one vote short Monday.

Critics said the changes are still a problem because many parents can’t afford to send their children to private schools.

It’s unclear whether the original bill, the amended version, or another compromise will move forward in the new session.

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